So once again we have survived.

13 vs. 13 TZAMETI

tn_13Okay, let’s do some DTV math here. If there’s a new Jason Statham movie, I’m probly gonna watch it. If it also has Mickey Rourke, Ray Winstone and Ben Gazzara in the cast I’m even more probly gonna watch it. All of these people do crappy movies sometimes, but they’re actors I like, so with all of them together that adds up to hope.

If 50 Cent is also in there, though, that’s a detracting factor. Not that I think he’ll do that bad of a job, just that he does not have much of a track record for participating in movies that people should spend their time watching. And actually while the presence of Mickey Rourke in a movie can make it interesting or even great, Mickey Rourke + 50 Cent actually reverses Mickey Rourke and turns him into a likely negative. But in this case there is also the Statham/Winstone combo which could easily overpower the force of Rourke/50, especially when you factor in Academy Award nominee Michael Shannon, ’cause he’s in it too.

So I crunched all this data and according to my calculations 50 is not gonna ruin 13. He already did a DTV movie called 12, he probly just stuck around ’til they starting filming 13 and they just let him be in it because he seemed nice and was passing out Vitamin Water to everybody. So they made the movie with him and later I rented it.

mp_13But the other thing is it’s a remake of 13 TZAMETI (French for “13 Thirteen”), a movie I didn’t really know anything about but knew everybody said was good. People liked it so much they couldn’t wait to see what that director would do next, provided it was a remake of 13 TZAMETI in English with Jason Statham, Mickey Rourke, Ray Winstone, Ben Gazzara, Michael Shannon and 50 Cent. I don’t usually do this, but I decided to throw caution to the wolves or whatever and watch the remake first.

The movie stars none of those guys I just mentioned. It’s actually Sam Riley, who starred in that movie CONTROL and who looks 3/4 Leonardo Dicaprio, 1/4th James McEvoy. He plays Vince, a meek electrician whose mother has to sell the family home to afford medical bills for dad, who’s laid up in the hospital in a full body cast.

Nobody except dad is really complaining out loud about losing the house. They’re resigned to their fate and willing to make the sacrifice for dad. At least he’s alive, they can be thankful for that. But there’s the obvious, unspoken fact that this is fucked.

So Vince has his ears open when a couple in a house he’s working on talk about something that came in the mail that gives the guy a chance to get a huge pay day for one day’s work. Obviously he could use some mail like that of his own. Then the guy in the house dies of a drug overdose, so our boy takes the letter.

In a way this is kind of the same setup as RED ROCK WEST. We see that he’s a nice, decent, hard working guy, but he’s down on his luck. And there seems to be this opportunity here and the guy it’s meant for is not available so why not take it? He takes the letter and follows the instructions and hopefully he’ll get away with going in this guy’s place.

Hmmm. Maybe should’ve looked into this more. What he’s volunteering for is a way, way underground gambling ring. He’s gonna be in a tournament, basically. If you haven’t heard what the game is that he has to play, my advice is to just rent the original 13 TZAMETI and find out at the same time that he does. But I got a review to write here so I’m gonna explain it.

The contestants are each assigned a number. Vince is #13. They are given a gun and one bullet. The ringmaster/referee guy (Shannon) stands on a ladder instructing them to hold the guns above their heads and spin the chamber. They then point the guns at each other’s heads, like a big organized end-of-RESERVOIR-DOGS. (I believe the person they point their gun at is decided by random drawing). They watch a lightbulb (which for some reason has a spider painted on it) and when the light goes on they pull the trigger. Whoever doesn’t die gets to stick around for the next round.

In between the rounds there’s time for the contestants’ sponsors to place bets and for the contestants to sit and stew and try not to shit their pants. In the second round there are 2 bullets in each chamber, third round 3 bullets, etc. The last guy that survives will get a bunch of money. Hey, thanks for leaving me this great opportunity, dead junkie who needed house repairs.

Winstone plays #6, a crazy player who decides he has a problem with #13. Statham plays #6’s brother, who got him out of the asylum and into this competition. What a great guy. Rourke (with one of those cowboy hats he always wears now) is the only player that seems to be here against his will. He got snatched out of a Mexican prison and forced into this. 50 Cent is his sponsor, working for some mafia or other, and not very friendly to him. These stories come out in brief flashbacks that seem structurally out of place as late as they come in the movie, but they’re okay, they give you a reason to be interested in the fate of a couple other players besides the protagonist.

There are a couple minor details I don’t get about this sport. First of all, why do these guys just wear shitty t-shirts with numbers made out of electrical tape? Isn’t that kinda chintzy? This seems to be a multi-million dollar business, I feel like they could spring for some fuckin uniforms.

Second, aren’t the viewers worried about stray bullets? It seems pretty ballsy to just stand there in the room while this is going on, it’s alot of guns to predict the trajectory of. Or at the very least they oughta be concerned about splatter. You’d think people in the front would have to be planning to get dirty, like at a Gallagher or Gwar concert.

I don’t know man, I don’t mean to be a prude. I know I’m always talking up the early UFC before it was commissioned and had so many rules. But this seems a little too much to me. I’m not sure this is a sport I can really get behind, in my opinion. I personally hope it doesn’t really catch on.

But as a movie gimmick it’s ingenious and sinister. It’s the classic Kumite tournament-to-the-death, two-men-enter-one-man-leaves type deal, except there is no skill involved whatsoever. There is no way our hero can find the misunderstood brilliant master or work hard enough during the training montages or find just the amount of inspiration and eye of the tiger to win or learn a special move that he practices a whole bunch and then you forget about it but in the climax of the final round he finds the perfect opportunity to do it in slow motion. No, there is none of that, there is absolutely nothing he can do to prepare at all.

It’s 100% luck, and the odds are not good. To win this he just has to get really fuckin lucky. And that seems unlikely because the whole reason he got here in the first place was the bad luck that fucked over his family. Also, remember what his number is. Shit.

It’s just so fuckin brutal, but these old rich guys bet on it like it’s horse races. You think they’re cruel to the greyhounds, what about these guys? In one scene a big overweight player (#3 I believe?) is hunched over and he’s sweating up a storm, he’s having a hard time standing up, so his sponsor asks if he can have a chair to sit in. The way he asks it is like “Please, for God’s sake, have some empathy here.” And they give him the chair and it’s like everybody’s proud of the great humanity they’ve shown there, letting the guy sit down before he gets his head blown off for sport. Great job, everybody.

Well, I think you can guess who wins. And then the guy that’s paying for him, Gazzara, talks to him like a proud grandpa. “Well done, young man. Well done,” he says. As if there was anything to do well. And then it becomes a whole new ball game because he actually gets the money, and he realizes he has to somehow get the money to his mother before one of his guys snuffs him, or Statham, or before the cops (who he sees following him) can find the money or prove what he’s been up to.

mp_13tzametiWell, 13 was good so I had to watch the original, 13 TZAMETI (13 THIRTEEN). It’s a very faithful remake. Some scenes are pretty much word for word (except translated), but some things are added or tweaked. In the original he’s a Georgian immigrant in France, played by the director’s brother. He’s just trying to get money for his family, there is no disaster. He gets involved in pretty much the same way, and has the same rivalry with #6. But there are no flashbacks or explanations of any of the other players. After the tournament, when he’s running from the police and the brother, some of the events are moved around a little, and the remake made it into a little bit more of a close call, I think. But the ending is almost the same.

The better looking movie, without a doubt, is the original. You wouldn’t think so, because it’s lower budget and everything, but the remake is not particularly accomplished visually, and the original has very nice black and white cinematography. That gives it a pretty timeless look. For me anyway it also benefits from not having any recognizable faces in the cast. As much as I like the cast in the remake they create a movie star sized distance between you and the horror of what’s going on. In the original it’s a bunch of guys who don’t really look like actors, speaking a language I don’t understand, pulling me into this mysterious, horrible world.

On the other hand the beauty of the black and white creates a layer of distance itself, turning this dirty, sick place into a pretty art project. And for such a fucked up concept it sure is bloodless. I mean I’m glad the remake didn’t go full-on gory but if they didn’t have blood when they should’ve I sure didn’t notice. In this one I noticed. It kept striking me that a whole bunch of people are getting their heads blown off and we’re not seeing or hearing any blood or brain matter. Makes it kind of antiseptic.

There’s a little moment where #3, the big guy, sits and plays piano between rounds. I don’t remember that being in the remake. It’s a nice touch. He probly took lessons all through childhood, he enjoys the feel of the keys under his fingers, likes impressing people with his skills, maybe making people smile or something. Well, this’ll probly be the last time for that. Might as well take a minute to do this one last time.

One thing I thought was improved in the remake, though, was his motivation for entering. I like that neither one of them puts too fine of a point on his desperation. He keeps it inside. But I think the remake had the more fitting depiction of what would cause that desperation. In the original I think the idea is he’s an immigrant so he doesn’t have alot of money. For an American version it’s very fitting that he needs the money for health care, and for the story it’s fitting that it’s bad luck that pushed him into this competition of luck.

Our boy Fred in the comments recently interviewed Mickey Rourke and he asked him about 13. “It’s a piece of crap,” Mickey told him. “If you don’t believe me, call up Jason and Ray.” Well, I can see why those guys might think that. They’re all playing roles that are smaller and less fleshed out than they usually do. I mean, it’s pretty clear that they’re the names the producers put in there to sell the movie, and they probly added a little bit to their characters to try to justify it. Actually Statham’s role is a pretty good small one, he gets to be kind of ambiguous and a villain even in a character that’s not that different from alot of his heroes. He shouldn’t be mad.

Okay, there was no real reason to remake it, but they did fine with it. I recommend checking out one or more of these 13s.

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.
This entry was posted on Tuesday, November 15th, 2011 at 1:50 am and is filed under Reviews, Thriller. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

21 Responses to “13 vs. 13 TZAMETI”

  1. But tell me this, Vern, if I saw (and enjoyed) the original, is there any point in tracking down the new one? The trailer made it look kinda’ convoluted, whereas the beauty of the original was its stark simplicity.

  2. What does “TZAMETI” actually mean?

  3. huh, this sounds pretty interesting

  4. There’s a short feature on the ANGEL HEART dvd where they sit Rourke down and show him some scenes from the movie and ask him to comment on them. While not quite calling the film crap, he isn’t shy about saying he doesn’t see any substance in the work, that his performance is on auto-pilot, and that he probably just took the project to work with Alan Parker. He seems kind of exasperated throughout the feature, as if he’s being asked to explain something he did while drunk. And that’s one of his better performances in one of his better films. Imagine how he’d respond to stuff like JOHNNY HANDSOME.

  5. 50 really does hand out Vitamin Water. I’ve been to his office twice and both times I got a bottle slapped in my hand as soon as I sat down.

    People think that the odds of getting shot in Russian Roulette are one in six, but it’s actually far less than that. The uneven weight of the cylinder is much, much more likely to make the bullet end up at the bottom at the end of the spin, not up at the top where the firing pin is. The odds would still be heavily in your favor even with two or three bullets. Any more than that, though, and it’s getting dicey. So remember that the next time you find yourself in a DEER HUNTER type situation. Don’t freak out. You’ve got science on your side.

  6. What if you spin the cylinder and it’s still spinning when you snap it into place?

  7. Jam: I enjoyed watching both but it’s not necessary.

    DocZ: Apparently it’s Georgian for the number thirteen. So the American title “13 Tzameti” is redundant just like “District B13.”

    Majestyk: Unfortunately in this game those odds just mean you might last longer than you think. The game still has to keep going until only one player survives, so your odds are not good. That’s why it has not yet become a commissioned sport.

  8. Mouth: Don’t do that, obviously.

    Vern: Realistically, I’m betting there would be a lot of rounds where nothing happens. That would either be really boring or it would ratchet up the tension. Either way, I don’t see there being a lot of merchandising opportunities for these athletes, and we all know that’s where the real money is.

  9. I’m trying to recall where I saw a short film (or segment of a full feature film?) about a husband who liked to play Russian Roulette as a party trick. His trick was, before popping off, he harnessed the power of looking sideways to see whether or not there was a bullet in the next chamber, and he knew that the cylinder revolved clockwise, so, right before he’d squeeze the trigger, he’d peek and verify that the bullet wouldn’t be rotated in position to fire. And if he couldn’t see the bullet, that’d be fine, because when he cocked the gun that’d mean that the cylinder would rotate the bullet away from the firing position. And if he saw that the bullet *would* be killing him, he’d laugh and buy time with his audience as he gave the cylinder a fresh twist, then repeat the process as necessary.

    The twist of the movie [segment] (spoilers) is that the wife gets pissed off at his antics, starts an affair with a neighbor or something, and arranges to have her idiot husband killed. The clever part is that she finds a rare model revolver that rotates the opposite direction, counterclockwise I guess, knowing that eventually her dickhead hubby would someday try his trick and would finally have the odds against him.

    I think the movie is set in the mid-20th century US… Anyone remember this?

  10. THE NOTEBOOK?

  11. Far From Heaven?

  12. In this case Mickey is right, it is a shit film. It surprises me to hear that the original (which I haven’t seen) doesn’t differ much from the remake, as I always heard it was a great film. Can’t be too great if it’s a lot like the remake…

    The one thing I enjoyed about 13 was the way 50 kept lifting his eyebrow to look tough but which only made him look constipated. Also it felt like you could see in Mickey’s eyes how badly he didn’t want to be there and how he was desperately trying to get some sort of performance out of 50, something to work with, but failing and eventually giving up.

    I liked Mickey’s performance in Immortals a whole lot better, at least there you could tell he was having fun with it.

  13. How many “Russian Roulette tournament for big money prizes” films are there? There’s these two, and there’s LIVE! which is a satirical fake documentary take on it which follows a TV executive played by Eva Mendes arranging a big televised game show with volunteers playing the game. Is there another one, or am I just confusing it with something I may have heard about the 13s a while ago?
    Incidentally, a gaping plot hole in LIVE! is that the game is set up that only ONE of the six contestants will be killed. As soon as that happens, it ends and the surviving players get money prizes. This is given a decent bit of tension by the fact that the gun is only spun ONCE before anyone takes a shot, so as more (randomly selected) players take their turn, the greater the odds are they’re going to get killed by this. Now the plot hole is SPOILER that it gets down to 2 players left and by that point, the show’s got the biggest ratings in television history. BY THAT POINT. If the first person who took their turn had died, the ratings would have been GOOD, sure, but apparently not the sort of thing worth having someone kill themselves on live tv for.

  14. Quick comments:
    * Weighted cylinders is a good point. In one of Chopper’s books he talks about playing Russian Roulette for Chinese gamblers where he would really put on a show, taking out his teeth and glaring like Nic Cage. He practiced a lot and found that in spinning if you held the gun straight you had about a 1 in 20 chance of blowing your head off rather than 1 in 6. He found those odds okay for the few thousand he made each time (prolly equivelent of about 8-10k US today).

    *They get around the issue of weighted cylinders in 13 in that the contestents must hold their guns directly upright, spinning heavily, and then snap stopping.

    * The odds aren’t quite that bad Vern as it wasn’t until the last guy – everyone who survived the first 3 rounds then goes into a lottery for the dual with good potentially quite reasonable odds of not having to dual – everyone who doesn’t dual automatically wins and gets the money and can go.

    Quick look at the base odds – it’s not great, but not quite suicide either
    1st round – 1 bullet per chamber – so you got 83% chance of surviving
    2nd round – 2 bullets per chamber – so you got 67% chance of surviving
    3rd round – 3 bullets per chamber – so you got 50% chance of surviving
    Then you go into dual lottery. With 5 survivors you got only 2 dualers so a 60% chance to walk away from the game with the money.
    If you do gotta dual – then not so great but you still got another 50% chance to survive (3 bullets), followed by 33% (4 bullets)

    However – what makes game cool is you gotta factor reaction speed (pulling trigger when bulb lights up) and psychology (practiced participants calmer so better reaction/trigger speeds). i.e. 13 lost the odds one round as guy had bullet in top chamber – but guy behind him was faster so couldn’t fire. So your odds in first 3 rounds are actually higher cos even if you lose odds – if guy dies first you still win could prolly halve each bracket as a ball park i.e. so now odds of surviving to dual lottery are 91%, 83%, 75%.

    Then in actual dual – if you are quickest you double your chances again – cos chance you got bullets is added to chance he dun got bullets.

    Point of this is to appreciate that 13 was astronomically lucky cos he was always last to fire. Winstone got truly raped by bad luck – in one sense that is as there is argument for a good reason that he has won 3 in a row (always first to fire), but statistically, he was gonna lose sooner or later. Flip a coin 10 times over and over and eventually you will flip heads 10 times straight.

  15. duel… duel… duel…

    One more comment – I played DTV math too and it just fell into worth watching on the spot, then 20 minutes in I decided it was shitty B drama with no sign of Rourke or Winstone, and Statham appeared as an extra so turned it off for plan to watch rest another distant day. Your review made me realise DOH, this was the movie I was hanging for. So 3 hours sleep last night so i could cram in another movie. Good one. Enjoyed it a lot.

  16. Thank you for the shoutout, Vern. I kinda think Mickey says those things for attention.

  17. Mickey Rourke said ‘Double Team’ was a piece of shit too, so clearly he can’t be trusted.

  18. “Throw caution to the wolves” is my new favorite phrase.

  19. Did Mickey really say that or are we just assuming he would say that. Because even Mickey Rourke must know that DOUBLE TEAM is awesome.

  20. Late on this, But I’ve been waiting for your review of this for a very long time. Never seen the remake but i’m glad that got mixed in for comparison. Also, I thought INTACTO was a good roulette/chance/luck movie. Actually this movie and the fact that it had the guy who directed 28 weeks later made me want to watch it even more. It also inspired this video, which isn’t russian roulette but it does have some of the same ideas.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BKXKWBcaV3A

  21. I saw the French version first, and I agree the black and white was extremely effective in adding to the stark backdrop of a horrifying predicament. I love the cast in the new 13, but seeing them as recognizable movie stars was distracting. I thought the lack of explanation behind all of the character’s motivations to take such risk made the French version even more surreal. Finally, in the French version, the lack of desperation behind Vince’s motives, made a powerful contrast. A relatively petty temptation lead him straight into a nightmare. Though the new version made a strong argument for universal healthcare ;-)

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